From a twisting road course in Watkins Glen to the high banks of Daytona, the ITSR Power Series schedule challenged drivers with vastly different circuits in the past two weeks. The drivers met that challenge with 150 laps of caution-free and often close-quarters racing.
When the teams rolled into Watkins Glen, a hot, slick track greeted the 18 sim racers that ventured to the 2.455-mile road course. Mike Kelley topped them all in qualifying with a pole-winning lap of 1:10.432 seconds. Lining up just behind his #80 Chevy were Corey Davis, Dean Moll, Tim Johnston, and David Boden.
In the opening laps, Kelley, Davis, and Moll broke away from the rest of the field, but tire wear eventually took its toll on the leaders. Moll began to slip back while Davis took the lead on Lap 16 when Kelley ran wide in Turn 1.
Kelley pitted at the end of that lap to re-assume the lead thanks to a fast out-lap on fresh tires. Behind them, Johnston used a similar undercut strategy to get past Moll for third place. Moll then found himself in a close battle with Boden, even splitting lapped traffic three-wide to hold him off.
Near the race’s midway point, the battle for first place again intensified as Davis closed on Kelley while the two worked through traffic. On Lap 26, the lead changed hands in Turn 1 when Kelley hit the inside kerbing and ran wide, opening the door for Davis to sneak through.
As that fuel run continued, Davis stretched the lead to five seconds before the final pit stops of the race. While the top three positions – Davis, Kelley, and Johnston – remained unchanged after the stops, fourth-place Moll lost time serving a speeding penalty on pit road, which dropped him to fifth behind Boden.
As the laps wound down, Davis’ lead was safe, ballooning to more than 10 seconds in the late stages of the race. After 50 laps of tough driving and sliding around the Watkins Glen International circuit, Davis crossed the finish line to secure his second consecutive win this season and his second straight at the Glen.
Kelley held second place while Johnston claimed the final spot on the podium. Boden finished fourth ahead of Moll, who couldn’t recover any positions after his penalty. Matt Delk and Michael Long also finished on the lead lap, coming home sixth and seventh, respectively.
For any road-weary drivers, the next week brought a different challenge in the form of pack racing at the Daytona International Speedway. The drafting and strategy began in the open qualifying session, when Davis used a well-timed run on another group to take the pole position with a lap averaging 207.416 mph. Bradley McLamb started second ahead of iRacing Today Motorsports teammates Chad Dalton and Moll, while Johnston qualified in fifth.
Once the race began, the field settled in mostly single-file, but just before the first round of green-flag pit stops, Delk and Dalton led a charge in the middle groove that reached as high as third place. As would be the case all night, the pit stops shuffled and split up the field of 25 drivers. Eight drivers took just two tires in the first round of stops and found themselves in a breakaway pack nearly six seconds ahead of the four-tire takers that included Davis.
The leaders maintained their advantage until the second round of stops just after the race’s midway point. At that point, their group was fractured by varying strategies and pit road miscues like leader Saif Faries’ slide through the grass entering the pits. As a result, the second pack led by Kelley and Johnston formed and reeled in leaders Bryan Harvey and Delk, giving a ten-car lead pack as the race hit the two-thirds mark.
The final round of pit stops began on Lap 75, and pit strategy was once again the deciding factor. Kelley, Johnston, Delk, and Boden, along with the lapped car of Faries, took two tires and opened up a nine-second lead over the next pack of Harvey, Adam Hallock, McLamb, and Davis.
The closing laps saw side-by-side online racing in both packs, with Johnston and Kelley working the high side as they looked for a way past Delk. Lapped traffic made working the outer groove difficult, especially as the cars tightened up during the run.
With just six laps to go, one such encounter with a lapped car slowed both Delk and Johnston, opening the door for Kelley to move into the lead. After that, Kelley was glued to the bottom line and held on to win, benefitting from last-lap contact behind him between Johnston and Delk.
The race to the checkered flag in the second pack was a close one, with McLamb and Davis riding the momentum of the high line to take third and fourth positions while Hallock and Harvey came away fifth and sixth. Delk’s final-lap slide after contact from Johnston dropped him back to a seventh place finish.
Kelley’s two strong races vaulted him into the points lead over Johnston and Davis as erstwhile championship leader Scott Simley struggled, finishing 10th at Watkins Glen and 23rd at Daytona.
The series now heads to back-to-back intermediate tracks in Texas and Las Vegas, but a potential change in the aero package between races could mean yet another challenge for the Power Series drivers.